There Will Be Blood (Paramount Vantage, R)

film_twwb_sm.jpgIt got to the point that I would think a reviewer was wrong or stupid if they had any reservations at all and didn’t give There Will Be Blood the near-universal, unqualified adoration it has been receiving thus far.

 

 

 

 

 

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I don’t think that Paul Thomas Anderson has ever made a false step. Although he is extremely pretentious and borrows most of his ideas from other, more established auteurs, the combination of which turns a lot of people off, I’ve always been a sucker for his films. I love the frogs in Magnolia, I love Adam Sandler in Punch-Drunk Love, the firecracker scene in Boogie Nights is one of my ten or so favorite scenes in a film ever… I could go on. So, of course, I had ridiculously high hopes for There Will Be Blood going in. I had faith in Anderson, despite the departure from the type of film he usually makes as well as his departure from most of the filmmakers he usually works with (this is the first P.T. Anderson that doesn’t have Philip Seymour Hoffman in it at all, for example). I’m not a big fan of Daniel Day-Lewis (I think he’s as great an actor as everyone else does, but I don’t necessarily get excited about seeing him in a movie), I don’t care much for oil, or epics, or whatever. In short, if anyone but Anderson had made There Will Be Blood, I probably wouldn’t have been remotely interested in seeing it, but as it was, I was ravenous for it.

Lucky for me, I saw TWBB about two months prior to writing this review, and I’m glad that I’ve had that time to think about it before forcing this review out. Immediately after having seen it, I knew I liked it but I wasn’t really sure how much; about all I could muster about it was that it was my least favorite of Anderson’s films thus far. And that statement still stands, but I do like the film a lot more than I initially realized. Most of my problems with it are minor, really: it feels a little too much like Anderson is making a calculated Oscar bid; Day-Lewis is great but in the same way he always is; the film’s a little overlong and drags in some stretches. Still, though, there are some amazing, beautiful, horrible scenes here, scenes of quality unmatched in any other film in 2007 (except for maybe No Country for Old Men).

You’re probably waiting for me to shut up about my expectations and just tell you what the damn thing’s about, aren’t you? (Did you even read this far?) Anyway, it’s funny that I’ve put the synopsis off for so long, because it’s a lot easier to summarize this film than any other Anderson film since his first, 1996’s Hard Eight. There Will Be Blood is about a self-made oil baron, Daniel Plainview (Day-Lewis), who grows greedier and more misanthropic as he gets richer, and, more specifically, the film focuses on his antagonistic relationship with a young local preacher, Eli Sunday (Little Miss Sunshine‘s Paul Dano), whose brother Paul (also Dano) is who alerted Plainview to the location of the oil that made him his fortune.

It seems odd to cast the young, mostly untested Dano against someone as intimidating as Day-Lewis, and not just cast him against him, mind you, but give them some really fiery scenes where Dano has to stand his ground against him, in long, unbroken takes, especially if the reports are true that Anderson fired the original actor cast to play Eli and Dano only found out that he got the role about a week before he had to start shooting scenes. This is Klitz from The Girl Next Door, remember? But it turns out that Dano is the thing about There Will Be Blood that has stuck with me the most—he’s nothing short of a revelation here. I said in my top ten films of 2007 list that his was the third-best supporting actor performance of 2007, behind The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford‘s Casey Affleck and No Country for Old Men‘s Javier Bardem, and I’m constantly reevaluating my stance there. And, if you haven’t seen those two films, let me assure you that that is some extremely heavy competition to be faced with. As it turns out, Dano and Day-Lewis have acted with one another before (in Day-Lewis’ wife Rebecca Miller’s The Ballad of Jack and Rose), so maybe they’re old friends, and Dano isn’t intimidated at all. It certainly doesn’t seem like he is.

There are heaps of other things to say about this film, almost all of them positive (I haven’t even mentioned Jonny Greenwood’s weird, modern, dissonant score yet!). Between seeing the film and writing this review, I read a lot of other reviews of the film, and it got to the point that I would think a reviewer was wrong or stupid if they had any reservations at all (as I admittedly do) and didn’t give the film the near-universal, unqualified adoration it has been receiving thus far. Regardless of whether you fall in the crowd of the former or the latter, one thing that seems indisputable at this point is that There Will Be Blood, alongside No Country for Old Men, will go down in film history as some of the best films of our generation. | Pete Timmermann

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